RTRL.61: Student and Teacher Perceptions of an Independent Choral Music Learning Project (Haning, 2021)


Haning, M. (2021). “I didn’t know I could do that!”: Student and teacher perceptions of an independent choral music learning project. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 39(2), 15-24.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are student and teacher perceptions of a collaborative, student-directed approach to learning in an ensemble setting, and what are the challenges or barriers to implementing such an approach?

What did the researcher do?

Haning conducted a case study of 29 students and himself in his own high school choral classroom. He allowed the students to choose a piece to perform for their final concert and to spend time independently preparing the piece over a 2-month period. Whenever the students worked on the piece, Haning did not provide direct instruction and instead observed the students. After the performance, students completed a reflection form, and then Haning chose six students (two from each voice part) who had taken on a “visible leadership role . . . , who had previously expressed strong opinions about the project, or who [he] otherwise thought would be able to provide important context” (p. 18) to participate in interviews about their experiences. Handing coded the interview transcripts to identify categories and themes.

What did the researcher find?

Haning identified four main themes:

  1. Collaboration and Connection: Students enjoyed working collaboratively and building connections among group members. One commented “that being able to share their opinions more frequently made them feel that ‘we got to be our own directors’” (p. 19). Another commented that “because of the independent structure of this project, ‘we’re actually having to listen to each other’” (p. 19).
  2. Growth and Learning: The ownership that students took in the project led to substantial growth and learning. Haning reflected, “from a teacher’s perspective, I was very pleased to see that the students were able to apply the skills and techniques that I had been teaching throughout the year” (p. 19).
  3. Accomplishment: Both the students and Haning noted the sense of accomplishment and pride students found in the project. “Many students seemed taken aback that they were able to succeed at learning the piece on their own, and they grew noticeably more confident in their own abilities as the project continued” (p. 20).
  4. Conflict: The primary challenge of the project was navigating conflict among the students, which most often stemmed from lack of participation/effort, competition between students, and struggles with giving and receiving constructive criticism.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Teacher-led learning experiences have long been a key component of school music classes, particularly in ensemble settings, but independent student learning experiences can provide unique benefits. In addition to teacher-led experiences, music educators should consider including opportunities for student-led learning. In doing so, teachers should anticipate student conflict and/or off-task behavior but keep in mind that this will not necessarily detract from the overall positive experience.

RTRL.17: Successful Sight-singing Strategies (Killian & Henry, 2005)


Killian, J. N., & Henry, M. L. (2005). A comparison of successful and unsuccessful strategies in individual sight-singing preparation and performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(1), 51-65.

What did the researchers want to know?

What observable strategies or characteristics are associated with high-, medium-, or low-accuracy among high school sight-singers?

What did the researchers do?

Participants were 198 singers in two high school choir camps designed to help prepare students for Texas all-state choir competition. Killian and Henry recorded each participant sight-singing two melodies—one in which they were given 30 seconds to prepare and one in which there was no preparation time. Each student’s performances were audio-recorded and later scored for accuracy, which Killian and Henry used to classify them into high-, medium-, and low-accuracy groups. The researchers also viewed videos of each student’s preparation and compiled a list of observed behaviors, which included the following:

  1. pitch strategies (tonicizing, using Curwen hand signs, using solfege or numbers)
  2. rhythm strategies (keeping a beat in the body)
  3. overall strategies (tempo, starting over, isolating trouble spots)

Participants also completed a survey to provide demographic information, such as age, voice part, and sight-singing practice habits.

What did the researchers find?

Strategies associated with higher sight-singing accuracy for either condition included tonicizing (vocally establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs. Students who performed with more accuracy were also more likely to state that they practice sight-singing individually and/or that their director tests sight-singing individually.

Note: Killian and Henry’s complete findings, including the effect of preparation time and other demographic differences associated with sight-singing accuracy, can be accessed in the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If we wish to improve our students’ sight-singing abilities, modeling and practicing strategies such as tonicizing (establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs may help. For example, tonicizing before any type of singing will strengthen students’ audiation and recognition of where the tonal center is, thus helping them sing with a more accurate sense of pitch. This could be done by arpeggiating the tonic chord or singing a quick “tune-up” in the appropriate key.

Tune-up/Sequence of Tones in D Major

If sight-singing is an important skill we wish our students to have, we should also consider encouraging them to practice sight-singing on their own and holding them accountable through individual sight-singing tests.